Fomites (singular: fomes) are used in medicine to refer to inanimate porous or non-porous objects, or surfaces colonized with microbes (viruses, bacteria, fungi) and serve as vehicles for transmitting many pathogenic microorganisms 1-3. Some examples of fomites are clothing, mobile phones, handrails, doorknobs, light switches, medical equipment, countertops, computer mice, computer keyboards 1-3.
Fomite transmission contributes to the spread of infectious diseases to susceptible hosts 1-3. Control or prevent infectious agents' spread requires a clear understanding of pathogens transmission in the environment 1-3. The prevention of many infectious diseases is by environmental hygiene with fomite-targeted interventions, emphasizing hands-on cleaning and disinfection of fomites 1-3.
Fomites is derived from Latin and in the original Latin the singular form is fomes, and this has been directly transplanted to modern English. Therefore the form "fomite" is a linguistically-incorrect back-formation and should not be used. However articles will be seen where it is used, often by people, e.g. microbiologists, who should really know better 5,6!
History and etymology
The word fomites was first used as early as the 1500s by the Italian physician and polymath Girolamo Fracastoro (1483-1553) 3,4,7. This word derives from the Latin word fomes, which meant dust, touchwood, or kindling-wood 3-5.
- 1 Boone SA, Gerba CP. Significance of fomites in the spread of respiratory and enteric viral disease. (2007) Applied and environmental microbiology. 73 (6): 1687-96. doi:10.1128/AEM.02051-06 - Pubmed
- 2 Alicia N.M. Kraay, Michael A.L. Hayashi, Nancy Hernandez-Ceron, Ian H. Spicknall, Marisa C. Eisenberg, Rafael Meza, Joseph N.S. Eisenberg. Fomite-mediated transmission as a sufficient pathway: a comparative analysis across three viral pathogens. (2018) BMC Infectious Diseases. 18 (1): 1. doi:10.1186/s12879-018-3425-x
- 3 Brent Stephens, Parham Azimi, Megan S. Thoemmes, Mohammad Heidarinejad, Joseph G. Allen, Jack A. Gilbert. Microbial Exchange via Fomites and Implications for Human Health. (2019) Current Pollution Reports. 5 (4): 198. doi:10.1007/s40726-019-00123-6
- 4 Nutton V. The seeds of disease: an explanation of contagion and infection from the Greeks to the Renaissance. (1983) Medical history. 27 (1): 1-34. doi:10.1017/s0025727300042241 - Pubmed
- 5. Hamilton-Miller JMT. Correct use of the word ‘fomites’: its etymology is important. doi:10.1016/j.jhin.2004.08.004
- 6. Nurkin S. Is the clinicians necktie a potential fomite for hospital-acquired infections? Paper read at 104th Meeting of American Society for Microbiology, New Orleans, LA, 23–27 May 2004.
- 7. Pesapane F, Marcelli S, Nazzaro G. Hieronymi Fracastorii: the Italian scientist who described the "French disease". (2015) Anais brasileiros de dermatologia. 90 (5): 684-6. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20154262 - Pubmed